I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Anyone else finding they are not a crafty mom–even though they thought they would do such things with their children: have a craft for every holiday and make unique gingerbread houses worthy of competitions?

I imagine people who grew up with me imagined that I would be a crafty mom. I thought I’d be. Circumstantial evidence: I taught arts and crafts at camp (basket-weaving, jewelry-making, etc.)! I took art all 4 years of high school, I was a crafty big sister who arranged such activities for the littles in my house, I love(d) making intricate patchwork quilts (though I’ve done narry two stitches together on one since baby number 2), I was an art minor in college, and I often teach drawing to students in our homeschool group.

But now I’m fully 10 years into parenting, and I don’t even look at Pinterest (or least not in about 18 months….) Do you know how many holiday crafts we’ve done together? I’ve managed almost one every year, usually in the form of a gift we give to relatives for Christmas. But every other holiday?

My oldest child is not a lover of crafts. He’s a fine artist–into drawing and painting and doesn’t care for the activities involved in crafting. So perhaps that just got us into the trajectory we’ve been on. And I share his proclivity. When I did teach kids arts and craft classes, I was always pushing for a way to increase the skill level, to teach something more specific, more skilled. I really never have been good at the crafts designed to help kids develop motor skills and such–cutting out construction paper, etc.

BUT now I’ve got two younger kids who LOVE crafting. More than LIFE! My middle kid, a boy, crafts all afternoon from his Highlights magazine and anything he can get his hands on. He’s done it all without my leading. It’s just who he is. He’ll find a toilet paper roll, ask for paper clips, and the next thing you know, we’ve got a Spanish armada or robot. My youngest delights in any time she can use a glue stick and scissors. At the beginning of the school year, in my new-year attempt to do more, do better, I let them cut out a boat and a settler dressed as  Mohawk Indian and glue a tea bag onto the man’s hand (someone else’s idea) while learning about the Boston The Party,. They were ecstatic. My girl kept asking me to dry and save my tea bags after that because she wanted to make that over and over.

So here we are, Thanksgiving week, and I’m light on planning for our homeschool anyway, due to other big demands on my time at the moment, but I think how we’ve never, ever made a turkey out of construction paper. It’s like an obligatory rite of passage–and my kids have been deprived of that! So Monday, in the moment as I called kids to the table for Spanish vocab review (a subject for which I had no great idea and was admittedly lack-lustre in), a sudden idea lit in my head. I told them to each pick 10 vocab cards–10 things they were thankful for. I grabbed construction paper (glad I had it–wasn’t sure I did!), and made a quick pattern for a turkey body and head. I explained my oh-so-pre-planned idea: for each turkey feather we cut out of colored paper, we’ll write one Spanish word. We’ll write “Happy Thanksgiving” across the top, but in Spanish. (Yes, that’s reviewing Spanish vocab AND it’s acknowledging we have a holiday AND doing a craft, all-in-one!)

I showed them a picture online–the result of a 30 second google for images, deciding to wing it. Here’s the final products–which reveal another reason I don’t often plan art/craft lessons: my kids resist following instructions on creative assignments. Only one did what I proposed. The other two did their own things. (How do you try to intentionally teach little artists? Sometimes the answer is, you don’t. You simply let them explore.)


I helped my youngest on this one–this was my proposed idea.


My middle wanted to do this instead.


My non-crafty kid did his own thing. What amazed me is that he actually put TIME into this, working well past the time I’d dedicated to it, insisting he fill the paper with well beyond 10 items to be thankful for.

So this non-crafty mom is feeling rather accomplished this Thanksgiving season; we actually stopped and spent part of 2 days crafting and focusing on being thankful.


Other things I write about:

11 Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Week 6 “Final Project” Drawing Lesson: Character and Landscape

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Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Hiring an editor. It always makes me feel like things are progressing. (And believe me, spending many years on the same book makes you really look for indications of forward progress.) But how do you find the right editor?

Here I am, nearly done with my novel (it’s heading to its final proofreading), and I’ve already worked with three editors. Three. THREE!

I did not think it would be that difficult to find an editor who was a good match for my work. I did not foresee how LONG it would take–how many months and years it would take to get what I wanted/needed in the editing department. How many tries until I found someone who got what I was doing AND who could help me attain my goals and maintain my vision.


photo by Amanda Foote, via flckr

After three different experiences, a lot is still a mystery as to how to land the right editor, but I’ve gleaned one take-away: genre really matters. What genre the editor likes to read matters. What genre the editor likes and understands really matters. And the editor having read your genre a lot and widely is really invaluable to be able to have the vision for how a writer can succeed with difficult plot challenges, true to the genre.

And let me say, I am a freelance editor myself–so I know what it’s like to be on either side of the contract. And STILL, I was amazed how difficult it was to find just the right person for a given need of a manuscript.

I’ve been working on the same novel for many years. The lifespan of my oldest child. (Ugh. Yes, I need to give myself grace–I had three babies and multiple chronic illnesses, all of which took turns making me desist writing for months at a time). During that time I needed editors for different reasons. Somewhere in the middle, I hired a friend who has a Masters in writing because I was so impressed by what she revealed in a friendly edit of a single chapter for me. I KNEW I needed what she had!

And I did learn a lot. But genre got in the way. She admitted she just does not like to read the kind of book I’ m writing. She loves YA fiction and children’s literature primarily; Oprah’s Book club type books with heavy drama are just not her love. I can appreciate that. For me to consider her  a friend and supportive, she doesn’t have to love the kind of book I write. But I found it really did matter for my book. As a very straight-forward editor, she told me 5 places where she’d have put the book down and discontinued reading it–except she’d agree to read a certain number of pages for me, for pay. She did not like a certain character or the heaviness of one story line. Our relationship on this project was always finite–and that turned out to be fitting. She could not have been the best to help me finish the book with a story line she did not enjoy. My book is literary fiction, with a dark vein in one story line, and it’s not for everyone.

My second editor, I met a conference years before. One thing I loved about her was that her first step was to talk to me about genre–pin down what it was. (Wow–is that ever the right move for an editor–I’d just learned how important this is!) I ended that conversation with my heart singing that I’d found the perfect editor for what I needed!

Her recommendations also hinged a lot on genre. What I  heard from her what was not new: that I could take my book into the realm of a thriller. Yes, I see that. I could shift focus and play up an element and make a psychological thriller. It’s all there in one story line. But that’s not my book. It has that element–but that’s not my whole story.

The second editor moved forward knowing I was firmly entrenched in the literary fiction genre. Now, to be clear, I’d hired her for a very specific task. I’d spent years writing a book that had bloomed beyond its borders. At one point, I had over 250,000 words for a market that caps a book at 100,000 words for new writers. Yes, I hired an editor expressly to recommend/show me how to get the word count down. I asked this editor to help me shorten my 150,000 word novel by one third.

After reading, she came back with a recommendation. It was a good one. Perhaps the easiest/least time-consuming way possible. It was doable. It could leave me with a good story.

But it would not have been my story. Not the one I wanted to tell. Not the big idea that had spurred me on to write it in the first place.

My story, titled Still House at this moment, is a family saga of two generations–one story in the 1970s intertwining with a story in the 2000s. This editor suggested getting rid of the earlier generation’s contribution to the story. True, that would have solved the word count issues entirely. It could work. And make a good story.

But my story was not about one generation PLUS the other generation. It wasn’t that the editor was suggesting I cut my book in half. Really, it was asking me to cut it by 2/3s, plot-wise and meaning-wise. You know how sometimes 1 + 1 is not just 2? (Not mathematically speaking!) The whole is sometimes more than the sum of its parts. My story was about the interaction and interplay between the two stories–one that created its own over-arching story that can only be told by seeing through both the two story lines of the two time-periods.

Amicably, I broke with that editor in mid-project. What she could do to reach my goal of 100,000 words or less was not the final product I wanted. With equanimity , I don’t see this as wrong or that she was a poor editor. To the contrary. I think it’s simply a reflection of one way to achieve the word count goal and the way she knew best.

However, I was convinced that there had to be a way to tell my very large story with fewer words. I was just exhausted from tying to figure it out on my own all these years. I’d done multiple edits myself and cut 30,000 words one time, 40,000 words another, etc. But I was at my wit’s end.


by KMSphotos via flckr

What I was attempting to do–dual timelines–has been done many times before in literary fiction of multiple generations. Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club. Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitte and Sweet. Tracy Chevalier’s Virgin Blue. (I could go on.) These works did it in different ways, but they all did it.

I began to wonder if I’d had an editor who read these books as much as I would have an easier way of seeing the vision for it. If an editor who read literary fiction would find it easier to solve my problems than one who didn’t.

I sought out a highly recommended editor whom I had years ago decided I couldn’t afford. She had done the editing (including cutting a substantial amount of words) for a friend.

But my budget was tight. I couldn’t afford having her actually DO the edit in the text.  I could afford only asking her to read and tell me HOW she would solve my problems, and then I’d do the work to the text myself.

The recommendation that came back was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted a list of paragraphs, scenes, chapters I could cut that the editor ascertained would not damage my plot. Her recommendation was to cut my book in half at the mid-point.  She thought the second half could stand alone as its own story.

I noticed some huge problems with that–so much from the first half did need to be explained. I also had a huge structural element going on in the first half, setting up a mystery that throws the plot in motion. If I cut out the entire skeleton of the book, as well as the setting-up of the mystery, my story would collapse.There was no such thing as simply deleting the first half of the book; taking that off meant needing to create a new structure and figuring out a new way to set up the mystery in a different timeline.

I considered.

In the end, I told the editor that I was not on-board with plan A, and did she see another way? While waiting for her assessment, I went to the bookstore myself, got another copy of a multigenerational story I loved, and studied. Analyzed its structure. Checked how long it stuck with one story-line before switching to the other. Looked through the engrossing story to its bones.

I was convinced that this type of plot and structure worked and was what my book needed, even if no one else said so.

The editor’s final advice was: If I wanted to keep my big story, I would have to be brutal in cutting a lot of words, scene by scene, chapter by chapter.

I already knew that. The advice sounded like my initial complaint when I was trying to hire an editor to do just that.

And such was where I found myself after 3 editors: with a book a third longer than it was allowed to be to get past gatekeepers and the knowledge that I STILL, after paying $$$ to multiple editors, had to do the work myself that I felt too close to do myself. And without the time to do it. (Who has time for that? I homeschool my kids and tutor! I had a toddler as well!)

Combing through my 150,000 word manuscript to edit words and phrases here and there to cut my word count was monumental and beyond my doing. But suddenly, doing that kind of comb-editing seemed much more doable than figuring out a whole new timeline and structure! I felt like it was suggested that I cut the most successful parts of my novel that beta readers loved in order to see if I still could salvage a story.

In the end, I spent the better part of a year doing at least three more, complete, cover -to-cover revisions of my book, shedding thousands and thousands of words each time. Each time amazed I could find more. Each time sure I had done all I could. A few months later, I started over, again amazed I could find stuff to edit out, ways to pare down my story and still keep its bones.

Panful. Exhilarating. Torturous. Empowering.

Today I have my novel not quite at 100,0000. But I’m below the maximum outer-limit of 109,000. And I got here, in the end, by doing it myself. I spent years trying to find just the right editor who could see my story more clearly than I, who could identify solutions I couldn’t, who could save me time.

I found editors really good at what they do. I learned extremely valuable things from each. But I still never found an editor who had my vision and could help me arrive at it. It’s not a fault. It’s just true.

(But for my last edit, proofreading, I’m going back to one of them because I know she knows her stuff!)

So maybe I learned two things from hiring 3 editors: 1) Genre matters and 2) Sometimes you just have to do it yourself anyway.

“What you are doing is going to be difficult. But you’ve gotta figure it out.” That is the advice I was given 5 yeas ago by a best-selling novelist at a conference who ran a 3-day intensive for a handful of novelists in the thick of it. She had read a few of my chapters and my story’s summary. While other experts kept repeating that I should simplify, cut POV characters, story lines or the entire concept of a dual timeline, she said, no, none of that would do. I just had to do the hard work to figure out how to tell something that complex.

Five years later, I guess she was right.

Well, my manuscript is off for its last edit–the proofread. That’s more straightforward. (Thank goodness!)


by Dave Morrison Photography, via flckr

Any writers out there have any tips for finding editors or take-aways from their experiences?

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Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

Is there anything more quintessential to the homeschooling mom than figuring out how to manage the family schedule in this huge, wide venture? So often I see moms of forums or facebook pages asking to see others’ schedules.

Every summer I do multiple drafts (usually while sitting in conferences…), feeling each year more and more like I’m completing a question in the logic portion of the GRE to get into graduate school. “Child # 2 has to have reading first thing in the morning, but he’s the least likely to be dressed and ready; child #1 can do writing at 9 but that’s also a good time to have child #2 doing spelling on the computer–but then, child #2 cannot do spelling then because he needs to clear the breakfast table before child #3 needs to do preschool activities… ” Add 10 more conditional statements of need and then sort it all out. Ha ha!

But I finally hacked out my new schedule and put it into place, to test it out the first week–with wariness. I want to convert it to a circle graph that I prefer for easy reference (how I do that, see Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)), but I know this is TEMPORARY! All plans, no matter how seemingly perfect in theory, have flaws! Whatever I tack on my kitchen wall will have cross-outs and switches and new ideas within the week! And that’s really ok. (As a writer, I’m a big fan of the idea that having something written is really just so you can finally SEE how you can improve it–as a novelist, hey, you have to have a strategy to become acclimated to living with years of revision!)


Then I began the school year. We’re 7 weeks in. And there was a surprise of the unexpected variety. It’s working. I’m ENJOYING the time with my children. I’m having more fun than I did last year. I’m actually teaching from a place of rest. (And I’ve barely gotten through the first chapter of that book…)

Let’s just say, last year was not like this. I was stressed. I’m a former public/private school teacher, and teachers always lament the lack of time to simply go to the bathrooom–and I was living that life again–having to go to the bathroom for hours and saying no to opportunities to do so because, no, if I didn’t get someone started on X, Y, Z right away, we’d lose time or attention, etc. That’s when you say to yourself–why am I do this????? The biggest problem with being  a mom is that everyone wants your attention all the time–and being a homeschool mom increases that–nothing can happen without me, and going to the bathroom means three kids talking through the door, asking questions/instructions. Simply put, it can be maddening, stressful and down-right crazy-making.

I expected this year to be the same. Why is it better?

Below is my schedule. (I know some don’t like the idea of scheduling; I like the idea of that. But having a schedule is the only way I can keep myself accountable–and it’s a necessity for us as I also work-part-time from home and have an end-time we must arrive at in the afternoon.  And–like rules–schedules are made to be broken. Were fortunate it’s not a school with a bell blaring in your ear to mark the end of a class; we can adjust however I deem necessary, any day, any hour.

This is our plan for three days a week. One day, we are involved in a Classical Conversations homeschool community, where my kids take classes. Another day, we’re gone for a few hours so the kids can take art, dance lego robotics. (On that day, we do only reading/writing and math.)

After you see my schedule for three kids, I’m going to reflect on why I think things are going better with it this year.

Take #1: 2017-2018 School Daily schedule:

time               elder son                              younger son                   daughter*
8:10                                <– Breakfast/prayer/verse/Bible reading –>
8:30 Personal devotions                             chores                       preschool activity
8:50 (review, CCC, research,              <–CC Review –>         (review, worksheets, timeline cards, map)                                                                  crafts, maps)





Essentials of English              spelling (computer)                    chores


Reading or math                               break

10:00 Ind. Reading                                   Reading                                       break

break when done

10:30                                                           Unit Studies

anatomy, PA history, Art history, math/art connection,            nutrition/cooking….



11:15 on computer                                <–Spanish–>                                                for this some days


11:30                                                <–American History–>

or World History for Eli only           break                                     break

12:10 Spelling                                                break                                     break
12:30                                                                lunch
1:45                                       <–Read aloud and free-drawing–>
2:15 Math                                                      math                                      break

Do math, cursive, Eli do writing,  and their own projects

                                                        <–quiet time–>

*My daughter is only 4. I’m a big proponent of not pushing kids to formal education this early and of delaying kindergarten age. But this child of mine defies the mold her brothers made and she has been begging to be involved with “school” as much as possible since she could express herself. She has been at the table doing history crafts (in her own capacity) or at least coloring/scribbling while we do school for years already. She’s not required by me to do ANY of this on her schedule. (Well, yes, her chores!) So her involvement is strictly as a volunteer.

These tips are the changes I made this year compared to last year.

Tip #1: Balance goals with reality for start time. Last year breakfast was at 8. I just couldn’t quite make it happen without putting a lot of stress on myself. Aiming for 8, I’d often make it by 8:10 or 8:15. So 8:10 it is. I am learning I have to reasonably avoid things that make me begin the day with my kids already stressed that I’m “behind.” (Ah, nostalgia–I remember when we breakfasted at 9! Ah the good days of having only a kindergartner!)

Tip #2: Remember your primary  goal for your child, and make sure you give it time in your day. Having my oldest go off on his own to focus on his own spiritual life at his own pace is new. My biggest, over-arching goal for him–beyond academics–is to know God. And that doesn’t happen just by downloading knowledge as though faith is just a matter of having data. One of the best things I learned in grad school, getting my M.Ed, is the concept that you, as teacher, should devote class time to whatever you say/believe is priority. If you say it’s priority, but never devote time to it, and expect kids to do it alone at home, it’s not really priority. I realized this summer that I needed to give my son TIME–some of MY scheduled time–to pursue what our number one parenting goal is for him: to work out his own relationship with God, by himself.

Tip #3 Choose your first student wisely. After praying together, reading from the Bible and going over their memory verse for church, we then split ranks for one-on-instruction while two other kids do morning chores. I made sure the slowest-eating kid is NOT schooling right after breakfast, as I erroneously did last year! (Again, eliminating my stress in reasonable ways.)

Tip #4: Start with a combination that is positive: subject, personalities, etc. For the first time, I’m doing preschool activities for my daughter who demanded it! She is so eager, enthusiastic and full of sunshine–starting my day teaching her is good for the soul. It’s so low-key and just fun. For years, I’ve been all about making sure the first subject I teach is something I find easy or enjoy–my not-a-morning-person brains needs the kindness–but starting by teaching a person who is in LOVE with what you are doing is a new level of advantageous scheduling.

Tip #5: Take more off your plate, Mama, for what you think you can accomplish during a meal while eating, and give it it’s own designated time. This year, I actually scheduled CC review. (We’re part of Classical Conversations, a nation-wide homeschool group that has local communities that meet for classes once a week.) Last year, I did not incorporate reviewing into our school day; I planned that we’d review the flashcards as part of lunch. Sometimes that was OK. Sometimes that was annoying, and just one more thing for me to do when I was the last person to get a bite in the first place. Again, stress. (Not enough time to chew your food–another complaint of teaching in a brick-n-mortar school? Why is homeschooling better???)

This year, I added it in, and for the first time, I have printed out worksheets. (My younger two love them though–thanks CC Connected! But it would never have flown with my oldest!) Other days, we’ll practice drawing maps or watch something related to the history or science. My oldest child, 10, I often have doing something different. He has Memory Mastered multiple times, so today I had him choose a timeline card to read and then explain to his siblings, then I chose 5 cards at random and asked if he could find any connection or comparison between any of them. This is very new and stretching, and good. (Other days, I plan to have him practicing multiplication tables or maps among other things.)

Tip #6 Sometimes the computer program can be your friend. Adding in spelling for another child this year, as well as preschool for my girl, put serious questions about my time into play. But my second child, needing the spelling lessons, loves computers. I nearly jumped up and down in the aisle of a second-hand curriculum store when I found his spelling program, Sequential Spelling, on a CD I can insert into the computer. A voice and a screen give him instructions on what to spell and show him the answers and walk him through all the goals of the program! This frees me up to work with his brother on Essentials of the English language and writing.

Tip #7 Make compromises between the hard choices. My oldest can read independently. But I don’t really want to give up our reading time together. It’s my favorite part of homeschooling–reading a book with him and talking about it. So my compromise this year, for reasons of time: reading with him for 10 minutes, then leaving him to finish the assignment alone as I teach his brother reading.

Tip#8 My biggest change this year: Use a rotating unit study format to accomplish many goals. One son loves biology and anatomy and it alone motivates him to learn anything else. They also love art history, and I have a fascinating book from Usborne on the relationship between math and art. We also need to fit in some PA history–and i have book of plays for them to read/act out, which I think they will enjoy for that. Oh, and while we’re learning about digestion, good segue into nutrition and cooking. I’ve never done such a thing before, but I’m doing each of those in one-to-two month stretch.  For science the past two years, I started a completely new subject in the spring–it was the best thing I ever did. So many things need to be done every day–writing, reading, spelling–it can get monotonous. Starting n entirely new science topic was such a good idea, I’m thinking it will be great to start entirely new, unique subjects throughout the year.  I’ll cover more anatomy than anything else, but I’ll break up those units with the other ones.

Also, a main purpose of this time slot is to explore things they’ve asked to learn about–and not all my children have a burning passion to get into the nitty gritty about internal organs. One is quite disgusted, in fact. So some units are for all three kids, others are for just one or two, giving the other kid(s) free time.

Tip #9 Differentiate. We joined the homeschool Classical Conversations for my 10 year old, back when he was going into first grade–literally because the program was doing its medieval history cycle that year, and my son was into everything having to do with knights. (That wasn’t the only reason, but a big selling point.) So for him, we’ve always dug into history.

We’re doing Story of the World, the time periods covered in the last 2 volumes. But the focus in CC is just the American history. So I’m doing something else new–for the chapters relating to American history, all 3 kids are involved, but for the other chapters about world history, my oldest only is engaged in that. My younger two love the SOTW activity book with its crafts, and my oldest one doesn’t care a lick for anything in that activity book. So, for the younger two, we’ll do American history–mostly for the opportunity to DO the crafts; for my older son, we’ll cruise at a faster pace through world history. It looks like there will be more days that history class will be with my oldest  only rather than with all three.

Tip#10 Finish the morning with a single student–not trying to herd all the monkeys or their mess. I used to end the morning with history. Ugh. And if things went well, then I had a couple so involved in a craft, they would not want to stop or clean up the mess for lunch! So I end with spelling for my oldest. That way the crafty ones have that time to clean up, and I can ask spelling words while I get lunch together. I’m into not wasting time AND fitting in as much before lunch as possible.

Tip #11 Quiet time. This is the only thing on the list not new. But it’s my biggest/best tip for any homeschool mom. If you’re like me, you need some quiet without demands. (I have work to do: I teach classes to other homeschooled kids, in CC’s Challenge program, and I’m trying desperately to finish my novel, Still House, finally.) And if your kids are like most kids, they might need some time away from their siblings just as much. We are on top of each other 24/7. For 1.5 hours, each person is in a different room, alone. This is when they do math worksheets, handwriting and copywork–all things best done alone. When they are done,  they may do any other quiet activity in that same room. This is also the time i let the preschooler watch her own Netflix shows–because, heaven knows, the brothers re not inclined to let her watch much Angelina Ballerina…

And as always, I don’t want the schedule to rule us, so it’s more of a guide. If we’re having a good conversation about something, I don’t want to cut it off just because the schedule says we should be doing something else. Now that I”m in my fourth week of this schedule, I’m finding it works quite well–better than any previous year’s first draft. I scheduled 45 minute blocks two times on there. I’m finding we don’t often need 45 minutes (but it’s scheduled for when we do–with some activity or craft.) BUT, I am finding that gives us daily grace so there’s wiggle room. I know I have two 15 minute blocks that may not be needed.

Negative: I still do not like the 1:45 read-aloud time in the afternoon. I used to do it before noon, but this year, there just wasn’t room.  Today, I clean forgot about it!! I’m often struggling with droopy eyes…so tired…but I’ve not found a better solution. I really just still don’t like that we are doing any instruction after lunch! But it is necessary now.

Other blogs:

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K




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Week 6 “Final Project” Drawing Lesson: Character and Landscape

For cycle three in our Classical Conversations community, the final project I used in my masters class gave the students a few choices. Some students asked for characters, but one asked for landscapes because we’d not done anything like that yet. So my final project was a combination of the two: choose a character AND choose a landscape, and combine them. And to the purpose of reviewing the skills learned in the previous five weeks.


frozen drawing 001

I drew this from a coloring page of Frozen’s Anna and then chose another coloring page of the forest and drew the trees around her once I was done with her figure. (Note: accomplishing both the landscape and figure is a challenge for the time available in class. You could focus on only the characters.)

I gave my students multiple choices, but I will walk you through one, different from Anna above. But first, what the goal is for this final project? I see the first five weeks as teaching skills to help students approach drawing. The goal for the final project is to give students a chance to approach a drawing armed with the five tools taught in the previous weeks. As I interpret them, the skills are:

  1. Finding the basic shapes in the form or drawing (week 1)
  2. Measuring the size of those shapes and the spaces between those shapes to achieve symmetry or replication, NOT that the student must draw a mirror image. Mirror-images are simply a great tool for practicing this skill, not the skill itself.  (week 2)
  3. Flipping a drawing to another angle to help trick your brain to see the lines and shapes as they ARE, not as we THINK they are (week 3)
  4. Breaking an image down to its essential parts, and then putting them back together differently or in an exaggerated or simplistic way, and/or using color to convey emotion, not reality (week 4)
  5.  Observing how the perspective of an object changes shapes and lines to convey distance; using shading to make images reveal their depth when light hits them (Week 5)


I had multiple students so ga-ga for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit that I figure fully five presentations throughout the year were on that topic! So I found the character of Legolas for them.

Step 1:Students chose the character and background from the multiple choices I gave for each.

Legolas coloring page 001

With these, as I instated as our habit since lesson 1, I instruct students to trace the basic shapes (and the geometric shapes they make up–triangles, rectangles, etc.). I’m hoping you can see my pencil tracing lines above on Legolas. Do the same for the trees of the landscape for the background.

Legolas background 001

Step 2: on a blank sheet of paper, draw the basic geometric shapes that were already traced on the original coloring page. (Note, choosing a portion of the picture is a good option–rather than the entire figure.)

His arm is arguably the toughest looking art of this drawing. I suggest walking students through what they see in this arm. I saw a series of rectangles and an oval. It doesn’t so much matter that the students find the same shapes I did–it matters only that they observe and break it down into smaller shapes so that they are noticing what is really there. A foreshortened arm plays tricks with expectations. Without close observation of how the arm shape changes, students draw a too-long arm because they get hung up on what they know about arms in another vantage point.

Legolas 2 001


Step 3: Go back into those shapes from step 2 and add details! As details are added, erase the guiding lines you first drew, if they are not exact enough.

Legolas 3 001

Step 4: Add a little shading to give the drawing depth.

As often is the case, the time runs out in class before students are finished–especially those students who are actively challenging themselves. I highly encourage students to finish it throughout the net week and bring it back in to share.

(As I’ve mentioned before in previous week 1 post, an idea from Drawing Demystified suggests giving students an amazing chance at tracking their drawing growth by giving them pictures to draw on week 1 (even just 10 minutes, outside of the officially drawing lesson), and then on week 6, those same pictures are given as the drawing project; when they are done with lesson 6, students can observe how much their approach to drawing has improve in this short 6 weeks. (I did this last year for cycle two and it was amazing.) Of course, this can be done with this lesson above only if you knew before week 1 to have the students draw the same images. OR, the flip: whatever students drew week 1, give them the same project again to see how much better it goes now.)


If you try this, please share how it goes! I find even the same lesson can go differently with different classes. Always something to learn.


Other blogs:

Perspective Drawing Lesson, Week 5, Lego Figures

Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4

Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees


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Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K

It’s been a while since I’ve thought about kindergarten curriculum. But now I have an eager child wanting to learn everything, and she’s not old enough for K (traditionally speaking). So I told her we’re doing K4 this year.

I recently pulled some things off the walls–things my sons used for kindergarten and higher but that I won’t use for her. When she saw me take off the medieval themed alphabet, she protested.

But I am choosing not to reuse that for a reason–it doesn’t hold meaning. She kept asking “What does a G look like?” (While I’m cooking dinner) and when I told her to look for the gauntlet on the ABC chart, that didn’t help her because she doesn’t know those medieval terms like the back of her hand, as her knight-loving brothers did!

But I got nostalgic as I took it down. The end of an era. I made that 6 years ago.

ELi first day school 001

My oldest child, my first little knight, on first day of school ever.

But I should say, I’ve gotten more excited about teaching my daughter preschool stuff more than about the boys’ subjects this year. Not sure why. It just seems so fun, so relaxed, so cute.

But back to the alphabet: she protested, so to curb the complaints/tears, I explained that we could make a new alphabet out of things she likes. She got all excited, talking about making ballerina and fairy letters. That is one of the purposes behind this designing: make it something the child is interested in.

The second reason I made my sons a themed image alphabet is purely academic–and about brain development. When a child is the typical age for kindergarten, the child’s brain sees letters and groups of letters that make word as IMAGES. They don’t see lines and circles forming individual letters. They don’t see words being formed by individual letters. Instead, they see an over-all shape defined mostly by the contours, the outer edges. Cat is not c plus a plus t. It’s more like a shape that is curved at one end and straight with a bar sticking out at the end, and something in the middle. For letters, it is the same–the first processing isn’t about how to construct the letter, but rather recognizing the shape its contours cut against the white background.

One suggestion I’d read more than once about assigning pictures/objects to a letter for its sound: it’s much more effective to have that object form the letter shape. Arrows make A, a dragon makes the D shape, etc. The image making the shape reinforces the their acquisition of the alphabet and phonics in the way kids’ brains naturally process information.

So for my knight-loving firstborn, we approach our letters this way. For each he learned, we made a card. I drew the letter on a little card, incorporating an image that starts with that letter’s sound, to help make an association between the shape and the sound. (When we were all done, I made little posters by photocopying them on three pages and hung them on the wall. I kept the originals separate and used them as flash cards.)

medieval abc 001

He got to color most of them and loved building onto this through the weeks.

Some were obviously more challenging than others. B was challenging just to try to make a breastplate assume a B shape. U, X, Y, and Z were challenging just to figure out what ot draw for that sound.

If I had it to do over, I’d change O because as it is, the sound is not either the long or short o–it’s oo as in shoe. (Not a good teaching tool.) Same with X. This is a common problem. Xylophone, the gold standard in my day for this phoneme, is incorrect because the x in that word also doesn’t make the x sound–it makes the z sound.


medieval ABC page 2 color 001

While the theme was medieval-era things, I had to branch out to medieval-inspired fantasy of Lord of the Rings.

medieval ABC page 3 color 001

Who knows what my daughter and I will make for our new themed alphabet.

In high school art class, my husband and I both had the assignment to design an alphabet themed on a particular subject. I made my alphabet out of clown acrobats; he made his of race car parts. I think we were freshmen in high school? I remember loving the challenge of tying to make human bodies form each shape. I will be doing it again, I guess, with dancers and faeries. Oh boy–I’d better get thinking now what could be done for each sound…. Without delay!

My daughter is impatient for more formal learning. She’s been carrying her notebook around for a month of summer, copying her letters from a fridge chart, asking to be taught things. When I took the medieval alphabet down, it spurred more curiosity. She asked me something about the days of the week. As I was making dinner, I took 5 minutes and recreated a chart I once made for my boys (long gone) about the days of the week, and sang her the song I made up for them.

days of week preschool chart 001 (2)

(To the tune of Mary Had a Mary Had a Little Lamb)

Sunday, I had an ice cream Sundae,

Monday, I lost all my money

Tuesday, I learned to count to two

and Wednesday, I went to a wedding.


Thursday I was thirsty all day

Friday, I ate French fries

Saturday I saw all day,

and then we start over with Sunday.


As studious as could be, she sat down and copied my little chart (after drawing an ice cream cone on top of mine), and sang the song over and over, smiling in bliss.

It’s hard NOT to get excited about going back to preschool stuff with this child 🙂

To any homeschoolers and teachers out there, have a great year!


Other things I write about:

My Dad, Monsanto, Cancer and Christmas Trees

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well)






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Perspective Drawing Lesson, Week 5, Lego Figures

Perspective. The younger students typically learn about vanishing points and draw a road. Another popular one I’ve seen in recent years is an aerial view of the tops of buildings, each of them disappearing into a vanishing point on the ground. My challenge in teaching the oldest students (9-12 year olds) in Foundations for Classical Conversations is presenting them a different kind of project for perspective.

The entire drawing unit begins with the idea of basic shapes. In my lesson 1, I take it to the next step with the basic geometric shapes that are formed by the OiLs (basic shape components). So when we get to perspective, the key skill remains being able to observe the basic shapes as they are, and not how we think they are, when our perspective changes them.

For this project, I wanted something for students to draw to apply perspective to things other than landscapes. I’d asked students what things they loved, and I got answers that included Legos, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. For this lesson, I incorporated all three in the choices I gave them.

Step 1. I list on the board the skills we’ve learned so far by asking ask the students as I write. The list is 1. Trace oiLs nad basic geometric shapes, 2. Measure–with whatever you have on hand, to get proportion right, 3. Turn the image in another direction to help you see it differently, if that helps.

Step 2. Give students an orignal to copy. Below you see one option I gave: Arwen from Lord of th rings, Lego figurine. After weeks of everyone drawing male characters from history and literature, I thought it was about time for a female! (The girls in class thought so too.)

I normally use coloring pages, but alas, I couldn’t find one. So I did give them the image below.

Step 3: I ask them, what do we do first when we approach a new thing to draw? Answer: observe and TRACE the basic shapes/geometric shapes. On the paper, I have kids trace the shapes they see in the two sides of her skirt, those hands, her hair, ear, etc.  Just the basics, no details.


Image result for lego arwen

I said this lesson is about how perspective changes our perception of shapes. Kids know how blocky Lego figures are; they know what shapes the hands are. But having to trace them makes them see that, sometimes, that perfect “C” curve is altered and not perfectly symetrical. Or maybe they find what they know is always a square or rectangle is suddenly showing up on paper as a diamond shape. THAT is perspective–how the vantage point changes our perception of a shape.

For instance, last year, during cycle 2, we worked on a castle. When students traced one of the walls, they saw that what they KNEW t be a rectangle was actually a parallelogram. So yes, even on lesson 5, I still ask them to trace the shapes. A habit to help discipline our observational skills.



Many boys preferred drawing Yoda. I found this image of Yoda here.

Step 4. Hand out blank paper. On it, instruct kids to duplicate the basic shapes they traced, using the skill of measuring how big those shapes are to help get them the right size and in proportion. (Check out my lesson on measuring/mirror-image for clarification.) As always, I remind them to keep their pencil lines light and loose–we can erase lines we don’t want later then.

TIP: If you have students whose drawings do not evidence actual observation of the shapes, I suggest walking everyone through a small part of the drawing. I’d focus on the hand or an arm. I’d show my tracings, then what I transfor to my paper–or even better, draw it on the board. After direct instruction of each step, I’d check on the students. Some students need this slowed-down, direct approach or they are content to glide by all the instructions and draw the way they’ve always drawn. Encourage and applaud any tiny change that reveals they are approahcing the task differnetly and getting any increment closer to repersenting what they see!

Below step 5 is my drawing. While my other lessons have had drawings broken down in these steps, this one I did in class with the students, so I don’t have a photo of the drawing at only step 4. My drawing shows step 5 work done as well.

Step 5. After basic geometric shapes are done, then it’s time for details: what specific shape are those eyes and eyelashes, etc.? (My drawing is violating what is now one of my big “rules”: don’t do the details until you have the basic shapes of the whole image done. According to that, I should finish her skirt’s basic contours before doing her facial details. (In my defense, this was from 3 years ago, first year tutoring, and I’d not refined my method yet.)

perspective lego arwen 001

This is how far I got in class, while instructing. Students got further than I did, if I remember correctly.

Ste p 6. Finish at home, if interested, adding color even!

I like this lesson for perspective because I feel they’ve had years of looking at perspective in landscapes and it’s often not applied to other types of images. Students need to see how perspective change the expected shapes of many every day objects.

Anyone have any other ideas for good applications for perspective?


Other blogs:

Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4

Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well)

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)


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My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

My mom is the one who told me. She told me she saw the information in a TV commercial. Class-action lawsuits against Monsanto, on behalf of people who developed lymphoma and other cancers after exposure to its weed-killer, Roundup.

dad maine 001

My father, a Christmas tree farmer, died not long after turning 45, battling Non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2001. He was diagnosed in 2000. In 1999, a study in Sweden (A Case-Control Study: non-Hogkin Lymphoma and pesticide exposure.) found that agriculture workers who used pesticides contracted lymphomas at 2.7 times the rate of others. (That’s not just twice as often; that’s nearly three times as often.) But we didn’t know about that as my father battled and passed away. I didn’t find out about that study until years later, through the American Cancer Society. I was trying to understand more, get answers.

My mother has a huge bin she calls her “Dave bin,” full of things related to him and his illness. I’ve watch her read through papers, looking for names of oncologists and surgeons, diagnoses and dates. I’ve been through that bin alone before. Every page. Dried flowers from his grave preserved by his sister Bev. Emails to and from me and others during the time my parents were away in a hospital, separated from us kids. I was 22, teaching school. My younger siblings were in college, high school and middle school.

My first thought about the class-action suit was surprise that that hadn’t been done already. I’ve known for so long. Did it really take 18 years for these results to be repeated enough in studies and get attention in this country?

I’d learned all this years ago–and then I’d stopped looking for new research. So it’s news to me now about the Round-ups specific meta-study that showed that incidence of lymphoma is two-fold among those exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup, specifically. And Sweden did another study, in 2008, showing link between glyphosate (RoundUp is one example) exposure and developing lymphoma in ten years. Or a study of farm workers in the Midwest with high incidences of the cancer. And a study in Canada finding the relationship. (Links here)

Some of the lawsuits hinge on allegations that Monsanto knew and continued to sell its product—without warning the public.  About emails and cover-ups, back-room deals and attempts to kill studies . . .

My father was a tree farmer. He used those sprays, Roundup included, for up to about 15 years, I think. In a big tank on wheels pulled behind a tractor, with a hose he held to aim as he combed his fields. Mom telling him to shower as soon as he came in, sweaty and wet from the blowback of the spray, pine needles stuck to his skin and beard.

So ask me why I don’t buy farmed Christmas trees. Others see a cute family business; I see a family in danger.

So ask me why I refuse to use Roundup. Why I spray weeds at my house with a vinegar and epsom salt solution instead. Why I cried when someone sprayed the remainder of a bottle of Round-up on our property to “use it up.”

So ask me why I buy organic food. “Cheaper” food grown with pesticides comes at such a high cost: the health, maybe even lives, of those who grew it for me to eat. Men with families. Migrant workers. Couples trying to raise children. And children themselves helping with the farm work. As my family’s “indoor girl” who preferred to help with he babies, I never helped  Dad with anything on the tree farm except trimming. (I was good at shaping Christmas trees.) I am one of four sisters and I do think if we’d been boys, we’d likely have been doing some of that work–and our brother, the last born of us, may have taken on spraying if my father had lived longer. (As it happened, my brother was 10 when my father was diagnosed and the farm work was discontinued.)

So ask me why I don’t buy/support GM (genetically modified) foods. It’s not just the guinea-pig nature of changing the DNA of our food supply and the complications–it’s for the fact that most of the GM foods are modified in order to tolerate being sprayed heavily with Roundup! (Is that not crazy?) GM food, through some unexpected consequences of resistance, now is drenched in even more of the chemicals. (And I don’t really want to eat that food either.)

Food is grown by people. Food grown with pesticides is grown by people whose skin is absorbing those pesticides. Those people are someone’s father/mother, husband/wife, son/daughter, brother/sister. Like my father.


Other things I write about:

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well)


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